Even though La Liga got underway just last weekend, we already turn our attentions towards Barcelona and Real Madrid, as they renew their rivalry in the Supercopa de Espana.
The Super Cup is the perennial meeting between the La Liga champions and the winners of the Copa del Rey – essentially the Spanish equivalent of the Community Shield in England. How the Supercopa de Espana differs from the Community Shield though is that it is played over two legs, as both sides play home and away.
As we know, Barca and Madrid dominate Spanish football and as a result only three out of the last 10 winners have been a team other than 'the big two'. Regular games between the two have the tendency to boil over and descend into pandemonium, and last year's Supercopa was no different.
In a typically heated affair, Marcelo viciously hacked Cesc Fabregas down on the touchline, sparking the usual brawl and handbags, but Jose Mourinho then proceeded to famously poke Barcelona's then assistant manager Tito Vilanova in the eye. Mourinho was fined €600 for the altercation, but this will be their first head-to-head meeting as Vilanova takes over from Pep Guardiola.
Real head into the game coming off the back of a 1-1 draw with Valencia to open the season, whilst Barcelona kicked off the Vilanova era with a thumping 5-1 win over Real Sociedad at home, which marked the return of David Villa to the team. The former Valencia and Real Zaragoza striker has been out injured for around 8 months and came back with a bang, scoring Barca's 5th in the rout but will probably have to make do with a place on the bench for the first leg.
Madrid are without Portuguese defender Pepe, who suffered a concussion during the game against Valencia, with Raul Albiol set to take his place as Ricardo Carvalho prepares for a move to QPR. Want away midfielder Kaka could be involved for Madrid, but manager Mourinho isn't taking the games too seriously.
“A match between rivals is always important, but the Supercopa is the least important of the four we play during the season. I believe there is no relation between the winner and what is going to happen in the whole season. We lost the Supercopa last season and we won La Liga breaking records.”
Meanwhile, Barcelona will welcome new signing Alex Song to the squad having completed his €17m move from Arsenal, but Eric Abidal and Thiago are not expected to take part. Youngsters such as Sergi Roberto and Isaac Cuenca could force their way into Tito Vilanova's thinking, but he is likely to go with the experienced heads for the first leg. Midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who could make his 50th appearance for Barcelona in the game, has a slightly different view than Mourinho.
“They will be intense, competitive games. This is just the start of it, but last season we managed vibrant, extraordinary, high-tension games despite some of the players only just having arrived. We are taking this very seriously.”
In terms of their records in Supercopa finals, Barcelona have won 10 out of their 17 games, giving them a 59% win ratio, but Madrid have the slightly better history, losing just four of their 12 finals at a win percentage of 67%. Madrid also, of course, beat Barcelona in the last game between the two sides, edging them out 2-1 in front of the Camp Nou crowd to almost seal the title in the dying embers of last season.
Make sure you tune in at 9:30pm (UK time) for all the drama, petulance and of course scintillating football as we witness the first Clasico of the season.
Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Alexis
Real Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Albiol, Coentrao; Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema